The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

September 17, 2008

Buttons in, phones out at Union County polls

LEWISBURG -- Union County voters will be allowed to wear buttons, hats and T-shirts promoting candidates as they enter voting booths this fall, according to a county policy adopted Tuesday.

However, voters will not be allowed to use their cell phones inside polling places, election officials said.

The two new policies were adopted in response to actions in other Pennsylvania counties where officials were seeking to ban voters from wearing campaign attire at polling sites, arguing that such attire was advertising and against state election code.

The Pennsylvania Department of State recently clarified its stance, stating "so long as the voter doesn't try to campaign in the polling place, then his or her attire shouldn't matter. And voters who show up at the polls wearing campaign buttons or T-shirts shouldn't be kept from voting."

As a result, the state left it up to individual county election boards to make their own policies.

According to Union County Commissioner John Showers, who also serves as the county election board chairman, the new Union County policies will help local judges of elections determine how much is too much.

"This is a general guideline," Showers said. "Before it was much more open, and we offered no suggestions. Now we have something to go off of."

The policy states that if voters' attire remains passive and they don't try to influence other voters in the polling place, county elections officials will permit them to wear T-shirts, buttons and other clothing displaying a candidate's or political party's name, picture or emblem as they cast their ballot.

Poll watchers will be restricted from wearing campaign attire at the polling place, because "voters cannot necessarily distinguish between watchers and district election officials," according to the policy.

In addition, the cell phone policy says poll watchers must leave the polling place in order to use their phones.

"We're asking the voters to respect the dignity of the voting process, respect their neighbor voters and perhaps use some restraint," Showers said. "The judgment will be up to each of the (municipal) election boards."

n E-mail comments to jnorth@dailyitem.com.

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